“It’s a very big issue,” said Taylor, who also maintains her own solo practice. “Nationwide, financial exploitation is the fastest-growing silent crime in the country. It costs consumers across the country over $5 billion per year.”
The National Adult Protective Association says elder financial exploitation is a fast-growing form of abuse targeting seniors and adults with disabilities. Most often, it’s a trusted family member or caretaker who diverts the victim’s assets to their own use.
“You’d be amazed at the people who put mom in a nursing facility and then take the money and run,” Taylor said. “That’s how it first came to my attention: People were placing their parents, their siblings and even their kids in nursing homes and not paying their bills. Then, when you dig into it, you find out they’re living off mom’s Social Security and pension, using it to pay their own bills (instead of) paying for mom’s care.”
The West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force characterizes exploiters as criminals, “but sadly they are also often friends, family members or others that victims thought they could trust.” If the victim gives the person power of attorney rights, “the exploiter has legal access to the funds as the resident’s agent, but has a duty to use the money for the victim’s benefit.”
“A power of attorney is not a license to steal,” said Suzanne Messenger, ombudsman for the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services and Acting Chair of the task force. “The power-of-attorney representative sometimes forgets the person that gave them that power of attorney didn’t evaporate the moment they signed it.
Task Force Fights Back Against Elder Financial Abuse